The Hungarian military was aware of the arrival of two Israeli aircraft in Hungary on March 17 and was in full control of the country’s airspace, Defence Minister Imre Szekeres told an extraordinary session of Parliament’s defence committee on Tuesday.
“Any claim that the military had not expected the jets or is not in control of the airspace is unfounded,” the minister said.
The transport minister and members of the committee insisted that the Israeli manoeuvre was not fully in line with Hungarian law.
The parliamentary committee was convened to question the defence minister on the fly-over by Israeli jets reported last Wednesday. Hungarian Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai had asked ministers to provide immediate information concerning a press report about the flight.
The papers said that two planes of the Israel Air and Space Force (IASF) approached the runway of Budapest’s international Ferihegy Airport twice but continued their flight without landing. The manouvre was later described by defence experts as a “touch-and-go”.
Szekeres told the committee that the route and schedule of the aircraft had been arranged in advance. He added that the flights had also been supervised by both NATO and European air security organisation Eurocontrol.
In contrast, last Thursday, Defence Ministry spokesman Istvan Bocskai told the press that the ministry had no previous information about the flights.
Deputy Foreign Minister Vilmos Szabo told the committee that the ministry had received Israel’s request to enter Hungarian airspace in due time. The permits were issued on the same day and promptly forwarded to the Defence Ministry, he said.
Peter Honig, the transport minister, said the flight of the Israeli jets was not fully in line with Hungarian laws, but it was not out of negligence or ill will. The minister said he would know more after a full investigation was completed.
Andras Nyitrai, a Fidesz member of the committee, said the authorities had “not taken seriously” the fly-over of the Israeli jets, despite the fact that they were reconnaissance aircraft. The national security services should not have been excluded from this matter, he added.
Gyorgy Keleti, a Socialist member, said the flight posed “a national security risk” and relevant defence authorities should have been notified.
Laszlo Tombol, Chief of Staff, told the committee that the Israeli aircraft movements were in line with flight plans and that Hungarian citizens were not in danger. The planes held diplomatic permission to fly in Hungarian airspace and their purpose was a routine long-term navigation practice, he added.
Zoltan Gal, another Socialist member, said however that the whole affair was “hyped-up” which would not have happened had the flights not been Israeli.
Szabo said the Israeli ambassador would not be summoned in connection with the events.
The committee inquiry was initiated by its opposition Fidesz members, charging the government with negligence, to find out what kind of exercise the Gulfstream jets had carried out in the country.